Back to the quarry

Founded in 1973 near Florence (Italy) by a group of young architecture students*, Cavart was a reactionary initiative profoundly influenced by the radical architecture movement, whose philosophy - with the likes of Archizoom and Superstudio - had shaken the Italian educational system since the mid 1960s.

"This was an utopianism built not on addition but on subtraction.” [5]

Promoting participation in design and deeply inspired by the natural environment and its metamorphoses, Cavart was an Italian design collective - active between 1973 and 1978 - that tirelessly pushed back architecture’s boundaries through a series of temporary and provocative events - seminars and workshops, but also films and exhibitions - to which non-professionals were invited to participate as well.

The collective’s first performance took place in the quarry of the Monte Lonzina, near Padua (Italy) - the location that inspired the name of the group: cavart meaning “quarry art”. “We chose the name Cavart because we wanted to [...] realise the concept of removal, a quarry is a beautiful and extraordinary setting” which has been “formed simply by ditching the soil” explained architect Michele de Lucchi in an interview in Domus in 1999 [1].

Strong of its success at the Venice Biennale in 1974, the collective gained a certain media attention and started to meet more regularly.


Hidden by the spontaneous vegetation that had taken over the abandoned quarry of Monte Ricco near Padua, in July 1975 Cavart settled for a weeklong architectural workshop called "Culturally Impossible Architecture". More than 100 students, architects, artists and curious participated to the event, among whom were Marco Zanini and Will Alsop.

In the course of only five days, “a curious temporary town of plain architecture” was built, both playful, “archaic and futuristic” [2], from the hay pyramid designed by Alessandro Mendini and Paola Navone, and the Tenda Rossa installation by Franco Raggi, to the Struttura Verticale temporary architecture imagined by Michele de Lucchi and his brother Ottorino. The visionary structures - “kind of hypothesis of a natural life for the technological man of 2000 AD” [2] - questioned the bourgeois architectural codes and shapes and oscillated between fragility and stability, ephemerality and durability.


"A quarry is a beautiful and extraordinary setting."

With a similar intention, Homo Trahens - Cavart’s last performance - took place on the 29th June 1976 on the Monte Morello near Florence and came to express the “primitivist urge [...] of Italy’s radical designers” [3].

The concept - literally meaning trailing human - aimed at redefining what the collective referred to as an “architectonic behavior” and to set off new creative stimuli [4] by using unconventional yet simple materials and techniques accessible to all. During the race-like event, participants were asked to realise “residential objects” or structures that were both livable, transportable and light enough to be carried to the top of the hill using only human’s force.

From a pair of stilts and a truck’s wheel to De Lucchi’s proposal Portantina - a transportable wooden “living cell” inspired by a sedan chair which required two lifters - each improbable structure was a call for getting back to basics.


Despite its short existence, Cavart not only brought together many young individuals - among whom many were to become key actors of the upcoming international design and architecture scene - but it also played an active role in re-defining the design process itself, bringing to the center of all experience and spontaneity.

[1] Michele de Lucchi, Domus, n. 819, (oct. 1999): 59, Hans Hoger), p. 47; [2] Casabella, 1975, oct. 17, in Catherine Rossi, “Between the Nomadic and the Impossible: Radical Architecture and the Cavart Group,” in The Italian Avant-Garde, 1968-1976, vol.1, Sternberg Press, Berlin, p. 55; [3] Catherine Rossi, Op. Cit., p. 56; [4] “Cavart Homo Trahens ovvero un festival d’architettura”, Casa Vogue, n. 62, ottobre 1976, p. 151; [5] Catherine Rossi, Op. Cit., p. 47; 

* Founders: Michele De Lucchi, Pierpaola Bortolami, GianPietro Brombin, Boris Pastrovicchio, Valerio Tridenti and Alessandro Checchi.

01_The Monte Ricco in the 1970; 02_Participants meeting in front of the Pyramid designed by Paola Navone and Alessandro Mendini; 03_Main entrance to the workshop's site; 04_Tenda Rossa by Italian artist Franco Raggi; 05_The transportable structure Portantina designed by Michele de Lucchi; All Images © Michele de Lucchi Archivio

Published: 12 Jan. 2017

#Pioneers #Workshops #Architecture #Education #Cavart #SpaceAppropriation #participation

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